Hidden from Our Sight
Topic: English Passage: John 13:21-38
Over and over again in this gospel, John has reminded us that this is a gospel about belief. John wrote what he wrote so that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we would have life in His name.
And in contrast to the belief John, and the Holy Spirit, want for the readers, we have the great unbelief of the people. This was a tragedy for Israel, but it was something that was prophesied centuries before. Israel would reject their Messiah. They wouldn’t see Him.
A couple weeks ago, as studied John chapter 12, we were pointed to the words of the prophet Isaiah, recorded in chapter 6 of that book. These were God’s words to Isaiah about his role as a prophet.
Isaiah 6, verse 9—And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’”
That describes not only Isaiah’s ministry to a rebellious nation, but Jesus’ ministry to the hard-hearted people. On the one hand, they got to see Jesus. But at a deeper level, they didn’t see Him. They didn’t see Him for who He really was.
Now, that happens in a unique and intense way with unbelievers, but it can happen in some ways to a believer as well. We don’t see things the way they really are.
I’d like you to hold your place in John with me and turn back to a story in 2 Kings chapter 6. Second Kings chapter 6.
This is during the time of Israel’s rebellion. The nation is split into two kingdoms. And though they are suffering the discipline of God, He is still faithful to preserve them and give them His word.
And at this time, God is ministering to Israel through a prophet named Elisha. He was the successor to Elijah.
The story here tells us that the king of Syria was intending to attack Israel, and he set up a surprise attack in a certain city. Elisha, however, the man of God, sends a message to the king: “Don’t go to this place, because an army is waiting there for you.”
This infuriated the king of Syria! “How does he know? Who is telling Israel our secret plans!?”
And one of the king’s servants steps forward and says: “Nobody here is a traitor! It’s not us! It’s Elisha. He knows your secret plans and he tells them to the king of Israel. But we know where Elisha is. He’s in the city of Dothan.”
And immediately, the king of Syria sends an army with horses and chariots to capture Elisha.
Let’s pick up the story in verse 15. This is the morning after the army arrives. Second Kings, chapter 6, verse 15.
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
In other words: “There are more on our side than on their side. We have a bigger army.” But the servant doesn’t know what Elisha is talking about. As far as he can see, it’s just the two of them—against an army of trained soldiers.
Verse 17—Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
I’ll let you finish the story for yourself at another time, but the point I want to make is that there’s a difference between what you see with your physical eyes, and what you see with your eyes of faith. Sometimes, you can see something physically, but you don’t really see. There are things going on that you’re not aware of.
Go back to John chapter 13 now. In the passage we’re looking at today, there isn’t a whole lot of action going on from a physical standpoint, but at the level of the characters and their thoughts and emotions, there’s a lot happening.
And what I’d like to draw your attention to this morning are three particular aspects of life that we all have difficulty seeing. Things we don’t always see, but God wants us to see them. In fact, He calls us to see them. And by His grace, in His word, He helps us to see them.
I will be pointing these things out as we go through the story. Let’s start our study here in verse 21.
After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
We’ve come across this word before with Jesus. He’s troubled. He’s jarred because He knows what coming His way that very night. He’s going to be betrayed. He’s going to be arrested. He’s going to be beaten and whipped. And by 9 o’clock the next morning, He will be hanging on a cross, facing the wrath and abandonment of God the Father. He knows it. That’s God’s plan.
And what gets it all moving forward is the betrayal by Judas Iscariot. So, He tells His disciples. And He tells them this ahead of time, so it doesn’t catch them off guard. “One of you is going to betray Me.”
Verse 22—The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus' side, 24so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”
26Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
Here’s a lesson we can take away from this part of the story. You do not always see the wickedness of the unconverted. That’s the first point for today. You do not always see the wickedness of the unconverted.
A man by the name of Giorgio Vasari wrote a biography about Leonardo Da Vinci, and he included some background information about how he painted the Last Supper in a church in Italy. Vasari describes the painting of Judas as a spectacle of stubbornness, hatred, and treachery.
According to him, a story was told saying that the high ranking official in charge of the monastery was getting upset with Da Vinci because he wasn’t moving the painting along fast enough. This official eventually complained to the duke, who was then forced to call Da Vinci in to talk to him.
Leonardo Da Vinci explained that he only had two faces left to paint—Jesus and Judas. Here’s what Vasari says: “He said he had yet to do the head of Judas, and this troubled him, since he did not think he could imagine the features that would form the countenance of a man who, despite all the blessings he had been given, could so cruelly steel his will to betray his own master and the creator of the world.”
Da Vinci was looking for the perfect face for Christ’s traitor. But guess what? That’s not how Judas looked. If you put the twelve disciples in a lineup, you wouldn’t have been able to pick out Judas. Think about that.
The disciples lived with one another for about three years, and they didn’t see it. They have no idea who Jesus is talking about.
That’s why Peter motions to John, and asks him to ask Jesus who it is. They all want to know.
And remember, back then, they ate lying down, so John, who is next to Jesus, just sort of has to tilt his head back, and that puts him into Jesus’ chest and he can ask Him a private question. “Lord, who is it? Who’s going to betray You?”
And many commentators here think that Jesus probably whispered his response to John, and that’s why nobody else understands what’s happening. That’s a possibility.
Jesus grabs a piece of unleavened bread, He dips into a mixture of the bitter herbs, and He offers it to Judas. In that culture, the host would offer the dipped bread to a special friend, or to an honored guest. It was an expression of love. Jesus is still showing Him love. And maybe for Judas, it was his final chance to turn back. But he doesn’t.
Judas takes the bread. He eats it. And he gets up to leave. And Jesus basically tells him, “Make it quick.” Make it quick. And John adds that final phrase in verse 30—“it was night.” Maybe a way of highlighting, not just the time of day, but the darkness of Judas’ heart, and the darkness of what’s about to happen. It was night.
Judas, one step at a time, by his continual greed and deception had opened himself up to Satan, and now there’s no going back. The divine plan is in motion. The traitor has left the room. And what happens with the other disciples? They don’t see it! They don’t know about Judas.
And again, here’s the lesson: You do not always see the wickedness of the unconverted. You don’t see it!
Even the Apostle Paul had people turn away from him. He talks about that in 2 Timothy. In chapter 1, He writes, “All who are in Asia turned away from me,” and he names a couple examples. Later, in chapter 2, he mentions a couple other men who “swerved from the truth.” In chapter 3, he talks about people who have “an appearance of godliness, but [deny] its power.” And then in chapter 4 he mentions Demas, a man who was “in love with this present world” and deserted Paul.
What kind of men was Paul picking for his team?! Didn’t he know how to pick good men who would stay faithful?! It’s not that Paul couldn’t pick good leaders. It’s that faith can be faked. Paul even told the Ephesian elders that false teachers (wolves) would come from their midst.
Fake Christians, or false teachers, are not always immediately visible. Jesus compared the church to a field of wheat and a field of weeds. And they look very similar right now. But one day Jesus and His angels will come with a perfect judgment.
So, what does that mean for us in the meantime? It doesn’t mean we have to be critical of others. Love believes all things. Love hopes all things. But it does mean that we shouldn’t be surprised when a professing believer walks away from Christ, whether that’s in one giant rebellion, or a slow turn. That’s the deception and the power of unbelief.
Some of us members here will turn our backs on Christ and walk away from the faith. We don’t know who they are, but it’s going to happen. Make sure it’s not you. Some of you youth, and some of our own beloved children will grow up and prefer to live life their own way rather than walk with Christ. I don’t know who. But it’s going to happen. And it’s tragic and it’s sinful, but it shouldn’t be a surprise.
We should not be surprised by the hidden wickedness of the unconverted. Nor should we be outraged by the way our culture is going. That’s what sin does. Since Jesus is the greatest good, then to reject His glorious goodness is the ultimate expression of wickedness, even if someone acts politely when they do it. That’s not the world’s way of looking at things, but it’s how God looks at things. And in His mercy, He uses us to love people and to call them to repentance. But they won’t all come. And even those who come, will not all be genuine.
A pastor once wrote as part of a Christian newsletter, and in one his articles, he pretended like Jesus was going to start a new company. And decided to write an imaginary letter on behalf of a management company helping him find the best people to serve on staff. Here’s what the letter said:
“To Jesus, son of Joseph. Regarding: 12 candidates for management positions. Dear Sir, Thank you for submitting the resumes of the 12 men you have picked for positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests, and we have not only run the results through our computer but also arranged personal interviews with each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultants.
“It is our staff’s opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocation aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
“Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, John and James, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We also feel that it is our duty to tell you that The Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau has blacklisted Matthew for tax fraud. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus, his friend, definitely have radical leanings, and they both register a high score on the manic scale.
“One of the candidates, however, shows a great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness. He meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We highly recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man.”
You get the point? Things aren’t always what they seem. You will not always see the wickedness of the unconverted. So don’t be surprised, or don’t be in denial when it happens. God isn’t taken by surprise.
There’s a second item in the story that Jesus wants us to be aware of, though many times, we don’t see it. This is point number 2. You do not always see the worthiness of Christ. You do not always see the worthiness of Christ.
Let’s continue in the story. Judas is gone, and Jesus now talks to the remaining disciples. Verse 31—When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.
[Manuscript notes are unavailable for the remainder of the sermon, but below are some bulletpoints summarizing the message]
- With Judas gone, the plan is in full motion. Jesus, the Son of Man will be glorified in what is about to happen. God will be on display. How? By dying on the cross.
- Death leads to the resurrection and ascension. Death is part of the plan.
- The disciples will end up confused, sad, scared. They won’t understand why Jesus died. But right now, Jesus is preparing them by saying to them, “This is how the Son will be glorified. This is how the Father will be glorified. This is how the Father will glorify the Son. This is the fast-track (“at once”) to God’s glory on full display.
- Jesus' glory was shown in His righteous obedience, His teaching, and His miracles. But it will also be made known in His death.
- The Cross was an instrument of shame. I brought great sadness. But it also brought salvation, redemption, atonement, love
- The disciples will not initially be able to see the worthiness of Christ when He dies, but He’s preparing them to do it.
- Personal application: Sometimes, confusion and suffering is part of God's plan. And we can't forget to focus on the glory and worthiness of Christ. Suffering is how God works. Suffering is how God makes Himself known.
- God’s glory is not in full display when he improves our finances, relationships, health, job. God’s glory is on display when He upholds us in suffering.
- Christ is worthy of our worship, even in suffering.
33Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’
- "Little children" conveys a tenderness in Jesus' tone.
- Jesus is talking about His death, and then later His ascension, which will all be so difficult for them. They won’t be able to see Jesus anymore.
- Bu while Jesus is gone, how can they live in light of Him?
- The verses that follow give a very practical way that we can demonstrate that Jesus is worthy. Listen to how Jesus wants His disciples to respond to and express His worth, His glory.
34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
- This "new commandment" brings a new intensity, motivation, and example for love.
- Loving one another is a demonstration of the glory and worth of Jesus. We love because He first loved us.
- Even in difficult or confusing times, we can showcase Christ’s worthiness by loving supernaturally
- Love (and unity) shows the world Jesus is who He said He is (John 17)
- Not loving others is a sign that we don’t see the glory of Jesus. We don’t see it.
- Jesus even gave them an example of loving their enemies. He washed Judas' feet.
- We don’t show humble love because the other person is worth it. We show biblical, sacrificial love because Jesus is worth it.
- You will not naturally see the worthiness of Christ in times of difficulty or confusion, but you can see it by faith, by remembering it’s part of God’s plan. And you can demonstrate Christ’s glory by loving others.
There is one final lesson for today—the third thing you and I don’t normally see. You do not always see the wickedness of the unconverted, the worthiness, of Christ, and number 3, the weakness of your own faith. The weakness of your own faith.
36Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
- We need to learn to see ourselves in Peter. We're so prone to rely on our own abilities and strength.
- Paul calls us to work out your salvation, but we must know that it is God who is working in us, both to will and to work (Php 2).
- Paul said: God’s grace works mightily in me.
- Jesus said: Apart from Me, you can do nothing
- God’s power is perfected in weakness.
- Rather than be blind to our own weakness, we must confess them and trust in Christ to uphold us.
- We can't do life alone, in our own strength.
- This principle is much harder than it sounds, and we're all prone to forget it.